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Using race in college admissions protected by First Amendment, groups say

A coalition of higher education groups argues that academic freedom is at stake in affirmative action cases. The cases center on Harvard University and UNC-Chapel Hill policies that allow race-conscious admissions. Public universities in California, Florida and several other states are not allowed to consider race in admissions. The American Council on Education, which represents college and university presidents, led 40 groups in a friend-of-the-court brief. The groups say a rule that prohibits race and ethnicity from being considered would chill prospective students from discussing their racial or ethnic identity or relying on recommendations that carry a racial valence’s value, they say. Harvard and UNC in their own briefs last week cited Supreme Court rulings in 1978, 2003 and 2016.

The American Council on Education has leaned heavily on the argument that the court owes deference to the judgment of colleges and universities. It echoed that line of argument in a case from Texas the court heard a decade ago. Now, as a conservative court majority reconsiders those precedents, the council is adding a new twist to its defense of the status quo. It says admissions operations are essential to academic freedom and protected under the First Amendment.